Armantrout, Rae 1947–

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Armantrout, Rae 1947–

(Mary Rae Armantrout)

PERSONAL: Born April 13, 1947, in Vallejo, CA; daughter of John (a naval officer) and Hazel Armantrout (a sales clerk); married Charles Korkegian, August 21, 1971; children: Aaron. Education: Attended California State University, San Diego, 1965–68; University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1970; San Francisco State University, M.A., 1975. Politics: "Left." Hobbies and other interests: Reading science and philosophy.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—4774 E. Mountain View Dr., San Diego, CA 92116. OfficeUniversity of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., Literature Department 0410, La Jolla, CA 92093-0410. E-mail[email protected]; [email protected].

CAREER: Educator and poet. California State University, San Francisco, teaching assistant, 1972–73; California State University, San Diego, lecturer, 1979–82; University of California, San Diego and La Jolla, lecturer, 1980–, director or co-director of the New Writing poetry reading series, 1989–2002; California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA, poet-in-residence, 2000–01. Naropa University Summer Program, Boulder, CO, poetry workshop instructor, 2000.


AWARDS, HONORS: California Arts Council fellowship, 1989, 2002; Fund for Poetry award, 1993.



Extremities, The Figures (Great Barrington, MA), 1978.

The Invention of Hunger, Tuumba (Berkeley, CA), 1979.

Precedence, Burning Deck (Providence, RI), 1985.

Couverture, Les Cahiers de Royaumont (Paris, France), 1991.

Necromance, Sun and Moon Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1991.

Made to Seem, Sun and Moon Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.

Veil: New and Selected Poems, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2001.

The Pretext, Green Integer (Los Angeles, CA), 2001.

Up to Speed, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2004.

Contributor of poems to periodicals and journals, including American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Chicago Review, Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Parisian Review, and the Los Angeles Times. Contributor of poems to numerous anthologies, including Language Poetries, New Directions; Postmodern American Poetry, Norton; In the American Tree, National Poetry Foundation; "Language" Poetries, New Directions; Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America & the UK, Reality Street Editions; From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960–1990, Sun & Moon; and Best American Poetry, 2002.


Writing the Plot about Sets, Chax (Tucson, AZ), 1998. True (memoir), Atelos (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Contributor of criticism to American Literature and Sagetrieb; author's papers are housed in a permanent collection at Stanford University.

SIDELIGHTS: Poet Rae Armantrout was born in the middle of the "Baby Boomer" generation and as a teenager read the poetry of William Carlos Williams and Robinson Jeffers. Armantrout was also influenced by poet Ron Silliman, whom she met at the University of California at Berkeley; he, along with Lyn Hejinian and Charles Bernstein, "sought to move beyond the search for a unique personal voice that had set the tone of the poetry of the 1960s," noted a contributor to Contemporary Poets. "The leaders of this new avant-garde argued … that poetry should engage in a critical interrogation of language itself as the mechanism that creates the illusion of an 'authentic' subjectivity and thereby trammels us in socially constructed ways of perceiving and acting." Eventually, their movement was labeled "language poetry."

Armantrout identified her writing with this movement from this point forward. Armantrout's work has also been compared to that of Robert Creeley and Emily Dickinson. The Contemporary Poets contributor called the comparison to Dickinson "apt," noting: "Both poets [take] fire from the friction of disparate, even clashing words rubbing up against each other. In part, the impulse behind these verbal juxtapositions is simply a spirit of play: Armantrout shares Dickinson's sometimes murderous wit. But both poets want to look at—and thus perhaps to see beyond—the linguistic and social structures that hem us in."

In a review of Veil: New and Selected Poems, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "it is not stylistic pyrotechnics, grandiose theoretical syntheses or encyclopedic references that drives these terrific poems, but an original and quirky turn of mind." Also commenting on the collection titled The Pretext, the reviewer described many of the best poems as "resonant coincidings of short bursts of insight."

In her collection Up to Speed, Armantrout presents forty-two poems featuring everything from thoughts related to celebrity gossip and over-hyped news to heaven and an elegy for the poet June Jordan. "There is simply no other American poet whose craft has been so expertly brought up to date," averred Adrian Oktenberg in the Women's Review of Books. "Her forms are so unobtrusive, call so little attention to themselves, that they seem entirely organic to the poem," Oktenberg continued. "This is craft of the highest order." Peter Campion, writing in Poetry, commented: "Her poems flow from a lyric urge at least as old as Sappho: the desire to peel away Appearance and expose Being." Daniel Kane wrote in the Chicago Review that the author's "poetry simultaneously extends and complicates the Romantic desire for communion and transcendence." Kane added: "What's so great—and wonderfully enjoyable—about Armantrout's Up to Speed is the way her often obstinate, funny, exasperated tone tangles with … ideas of naturalness and authority." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that the collection "consolidates her place as a preeminent poet of economy."

Armantrout told CA: "I write because much of what I see and hear seems wrong somehow. I need to record it and consider it further; I write in order to find or frame for myself the necessary questions. I write to make thought (more) palpable. I'm interested in origin stories, scientific or mythological. I like to play with them, rearrange them, invent new ones. I carry a notebook with me and record impressions, sights, snippets of overheard conversations, etc. After I've done this for several days or weeks, I go through the collected material and look for patterns. Then I try to arrange pieces in order to put them in dialogue, create interesting conjunctions."



Armantrout, Rae, True, Atelos (Berkeley, CA), 1998.

Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 193: American Poets since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Drake, Robert, editor, A Wild Salience: The Writing of Rae Armantrout, Burning Press (Lakewood, OH), 2000.


Chicago Review, spring, 2005, Daniel Kane, review of Up to Speed, p. 291.

Contemporary Literature, winter, 1994, Michael Leddy, "'See Armantrout for an Alternative View': Narrative and Counternarrative in the Poetry of Rae Armantrout," p. 739.

Poetry, November, 2004, Peter Campion, review of Up to Speed, p. 135.

Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2001, review of Veil: New and Selected Poems and The Pretext, p. 83; December 22, 2003, review of Up to Speed, p. 54.

Women's Review of Books, July, 2004, Adrian Oktenberg, review of Up to Speed, p. 6.


Electronic Poetry Center, (March 20, 2006), brief biographical profile of author.

Stanford University Libraries & Academic Resources Information Web site, (march 20, 2006), information on collection of author's papers.

University of California, San Diego Web site, (March 20, 2006), faculty profile of author.